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Billy McGinty & His Cowboy Band Take to the Air

May 9, 2001

Historian's Notes

Oklahoma is home to a large number of talented musicians. More than most people could ever imagine, Oklahoma is the home to various famous performers and songwriters. From jazz, country, folk, rock and classical; Oklahoma has a tradition of which to be proud. One of the earlier Oklahoma bands to make a name for themselves is the Billy McGinty, or Otto Gray Oklahoma Cowboys. Coming out of Ripley, Oklahoma, the band, some people claim, was the first western music band ever. The band first used Billy McGinty, an ex-Rough Rider, as a figurehead. When Stillwater resident Otto Gray expressed interest, the job of manager and namesake was given to him. The band toured the United States and experienced phenomenal levels of success.

Resources

Chlouber, C. (Win. 1997-1998). Washington Irving Trail Museum. Chronicles of Oklahoma, 75 (4).

Almanac Transcript

Billy McGinty and his Cowboy Band take to the air this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, Iím Steven Kite.

Today itís very common to hear country music coming from the radio, some might say a little too common, but just 76 years ago that was not the case. It was on May 7 of 1925 that Billy McGinty's band took to the airwaves on KFRU, later to become KVOO, in Bristow, Oklahoma. Most historians and musicologists agree that this was the first known broadcast of a cowboy string band.

Based out of Ripley, Oklahoma, Billy McGinty and his Cowboy Band began playing regularly on the radio and at parties and events in the area. With a blend of country and old time favorites the band attracted attention wherever they played. Billy McGinty, a one time Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt, initially sponsored and managed the band but with the arrival of fame and popularity, managerial duties were transferred to Stillwater resident, Otto Gray. McGinty as he stated, preferred to stay out of the limelight.

Otto Gray and his Oklahoma Cowboys, as they were now called, embarked immediately upon a tour of the region generating thousands of pieces of fan mail whenever they played. During a three week stint in Schenectady, New York, the band received more than 50,000 pieces of mail. Elsewhere on their East Coast tour the band was so popular that telephone switchboards jammed to the point of closing and special post offices were set up to handle the fan mail. Counted among the fans of the band were none other than Henry Ford and Theodore Roosevelt, and between 1931 and 1934 the band was featured twice on the cover of Billboard magazine.

Due to the number of people in the band, touring across the country required special means of transportation. Several custom touring cars were specially built for the group including three that were made to resemble train cars. There was a locomotive shaped car, a car resembling a Pullman coach and a three ton sound car that held amplifiers, microphones and speakers for pre-show public announcements.

The Oklahoma Cowboys were groundbreaking for several reasons, not only were they cowboy music radio pioneers, but they also prominently featured a female singer, Mommie Gray, who has been listed as one of country musicís earliest female performers. Like many of the traveling acts of the time, Otto Gray and his Oklahoma Cowboys weren't able to last through the lean depression years and broke up in 1936.

Some of the earliest country music pioneers signing on for the first time this week in 1925.

I'm Steven Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a production of the OSU Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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